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Book Reviews

I’ve read a few books this year, thanks to Kindle for iPhone & Mac as well as a few actual printed books either found or borrowed from work’s extensive library (one of my favourite parts of our Stockholm office).

These are my highlights.

Paradigms of AI Programming

After re-discovering Lisp style programming with Clojure, this book came high on my to-read list and I was not disappointed.

The book covers a wide range of classic AI problems, and walks through solutions in Common Lisp. This makes the book partly about solving AI problems, and partly an advanced book on Lisp programming.

I loved it for both aspects.

Be warned however, Peter Norvig is a master of his tools and reading along you can be seduced into how obvious each next step is. It is worth trying to implement some of these algorithms yourself, or even try solving Sudoku.

This book won’t make you an expert on the latest AI techniques, but it will add to the class of problems you can solve, and make you a better programmer.

Into the Plex

A great insight into the history and workings of Google. There are lots of examples of how Google goes about solving problems and lots of behind the scenes information.

One section I found interesting was on staff allocation:

Around 2005, Google determined a simple formula to distribute its engineering talent: 70-20-10. Seventy percent of its engineers would work in either search or ads. Twenty percent would focus on key products such as applications. The remaining 10 percent would work on wild cards, which often emerged from the 20 percent time where people could choose their own projects.

Animal Spirits

After finishing Robert Schiller’s course on finance via iTunes University, I picked up his book Animal Spirits.

This is an approachable book that doesn’t assume too much finance background, and covers how behavioural finance fits into a macro economic framework. Or rather, how human emotions messes up existing approaches to making decisions for the broad economy.

If you’re interested in how government should be setting policy, or how human psychology impacts economics, this is well worth a read.

Toyota Production System

The Toyota Way

I started by reading Toyota Production System, as the Toyota Way was already loaned out. This turned out to be fortuitous.

The Toyota Production System is written by Taiichi Ohno, who was responsible for putting in place most of the practices that define their production system. The book is translated from the Japanese, and reads like the writings of a Zen master. Everything is very clear and concise with no superfluous words or explanations.

I found it enlightening. However, it is worth pausing often throughout the book to ponder the implications of what has been said, and was it assumes. This is a book to read to understand the fundamentals and the attitude required to implement a similar approach to your business.

The Toyota Way is an easier read, and based on the time Jeffrey Liker has spent studying Toyota. He had access to a range of plants in the US and interviewed many of the key Toyota people. His book is written as a series of stories that act as a set of case studies for how the Toyota Way was applied to a range of engineering challenges.

I particularly loved the chapters explaining how Toyota created the Lexus brand and the Prius.

To get a good understanding of how Toyota works, it is worth reading both books. I feel like it is clearer on how Kanban fits into a wider corporate picture, after having previously read David Anderson’s book.

The Time Traveller’s Wife

This was left by a previous occupant of the apartment we rented for the summer in Paris. It was a great holiday read.

Suspend disbelief for a while, and just let the story flow. The characters are well thought out and carry the story well.